“Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
This series highlights young professionals and their stories, because no matter our path we all have a little to share and a lot to learn. Read and learn from past feature posts HERE.
This week I have been traveling for work in Oregon, which meant that I had the chance for a long weekend at home with my family. This afternoon I met with a group of students at my school, and one of the key things we talked about was the importance of building your network and how it evolves throughout college and into your career.
Lauren, my guest feature today, is a perfect example of that. Lauren is a part of my AFA network, and while I know that we have “known” each other for while, she’s an example of someone in my outer network (because of AFA) with whom I’ve more recently connected with directly when our jobs led us to cross paths again at a conference last summer. Lauren is a fellow ag comm grad, and like me, moved to an entirely new place for her job. Lauren is incredibly kind, has a heart for agriculture and people, and she is tackling the ups and downs of what I call “the crazy post-grad life” head on. I am excited to share Lauren’s story with you. It’s refreshing and sincere, and she has some great advice!
Name: Lauren Prettyman
Hometown: Marion, Ohio
College: The Ohio State University
Degree(s): Agriculture Communication
Current Location: Columbia, South Carolina
Current Job: Media Specialist for South Carolina Farm Bureau
I often tell people I had the best of both worlds growing up – living in the city close to my school friends, yet being able to escape to the farm whenever I wanted. My parents divorced when I was too young to remember; I lived with my mom in Marion, Ohio, a city of about 35,000 just north of Columbus, and visited my dad often, who lives on a beautiful farm right outside of Marion.
I have three younger siblings, and growing up with them was nothing less than crazy at all times. Tyler (21) is in his fourth year at Ohio State to become a small animal vet tech – I know he’ll be great at this because he is totally a dog whisperer. Wesley (15) is already a hundred times more motivated than I was in high school, and will someday reach the prestigious goal of ‘dotting the i’ for the OSU marching band (The Best Damn Band In The Land). Halle (14) has all the athletic ability that the older three of us didn’t get – she’ll be famous one day.
As it was for many farm kids, my love for agriculture grew from helping my dad on the farm. I started 4-H as soon as I was old enough. My two favorite weeks of the year were county fair week and 4-H camp week. In typical ag kid fashion, I joined FFA in high school, continuing the projects I had started through 4-H. I was the Star Greenhand freshman year, spent two years as the chapter treasurer, served as the chapter vice president my senior year and received my American Degree two years later. I was hooked on FFA and, inspired by my advisor, I set off to college to become an ag teacher.
How did you choose your college and your major?
When I initially started my college search, I looked for schools everywhere other than Ohio. Knowing I wanted to pursue a career in agriculture, I studied the list of the country’s top ag schools before making any decisions. I visited Purdue, Penn State and a few others, but none of them seemed to fit what I was looking for. At a loss for other options, I applied to OSU and was accepted.
I started as a freshman majoring in ag education, but after participating in my Early Field Experience in a classroom setting, I knew ag ed wasn’t for me. Halfway through my junior year at Ohio State I changed my major to ag communication. I excelled in my ag comm classes and knew that was where I needed to be. I minored in production ag, which allowed me to take an entry level class in just about every part of the Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences – food science, plant science, animal science, soil science, meat science and ag business.
Despite initially not wanting to go to Ohio State, I quickly fell in love with the university – the campus, the people, the traditions. I am so thankful God had greater plans for me than I could have ever imagined, and led me to Ohio State.
What were you involved with outside of class? Organizations? Internships?
I started freshman year in a scholars program – Mount Leadership Society – which focused on scholarship, leadership and service. I quickly learned that MLS was not for me, but because of my involvement in that program, I was able to connect with the other CFAES students, and meet my best friend, whom I attribute much of my college involvement to.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year, that I truly grasped college for what it had to offer. I became involved in anything and everything I could possibly fit into my schedule – Ag Ed Society, Ag Communicators of Tomorrow, Meat Science Club, Ag Business Club, CFAES Student Council, among other things. I was accepted into Alpha Zeta Partners, an OSU ag honorary, which allowed me to travel to Brazil for a semester. I caught the travel bug and also traveled to Chile, Ireland and Costa Rica through CFAES programs.
One organization I became involved outside of Ohio State was Ag Future of America. This organization was the true catalyst for my desire to become an ag leader. The AFA Leaders Conference connected me with students from around the country who were passionate about making a positive difference in the ag industry, and also allowed me to meet industry professionals, presidents and CEOs who were passionate about educating us to be the future leaders of agriculture.
What were your biggest challenges or obstacles in college? Anything you would change?
Motivation was something I struggled with freshman year. I didn’t have the desire to become involved, I wasn’t worried about my grades and I skipped a lot of 8 a.m. classes. Thankfully I snapped out of that, got my grades up and became uber involved. But once I took all of that on, the time management struggle was real. I had to learn how to balance my classes, a million organizations, two jobs, my social life, oh, and sleep at some point. Not entirely sure how I did it, but I must have learned something because I came out on top with good grades and lifelong friendships. Shout out to my parents and friends who supported me and kept me sane!
Do you have any regrets in college, or anything you would change if you had the chance?
I am so grateful for all of my experiences during my four years at Ohio State – good and bad. I am a firm believer in the cliché saying ‘everything happens for a reason’ and because of that, I try not to regret any decisions I have made. However, if I could change anything about my experience, I would have gotten more involved sooner. College is about new experiences and personal growth, and often we do not realize this until we’re already halfway through the journey. And internships – I would do so many more internships!
Tell us about your career so far.
My current position at South Carolina Farm Bureau is new to the organization, making me the first media specialist they’ve ever had! My job description includes responsibilities like writing news releases and creating social media content, but because I’m in a brand new position, I’ve been really fortunate to sort of make it what I want and what the organization needs. I write a lot – news releases, newsletters, magazine articles, government relations content, you name it. One of my favorite aspects of my job is that I get to travel around the state visiting farmers, hearing their stories, using that for content.
I had no idea the steep learning curve I’d face when I started. I was introduced to crops I’d never even seen in a field before – peanuts, cotton and tobacco. I didn’t know what they looked like, how they were grown or how they were harvested. I didn’t even know peanuts grew underground! But I so loved learning about these crops. And parts of South Carolina have a growing season of nearly 300 days, which allows producers to grow fresh produce almost year-round. I have grown proud to be part of this amazingly diverse industry in South Carolina, and I love that my job allows me to tell the story of South Carolina’s farmers.
How have your experiences and involvement in college set you up for success in your career and life post grad?
Each of the clubs and organizations I was involved in have impacted my professional life in unique ways. The hard skills like time management and budgeting have definitely been helpful in post-grad life, but the soft skills were really invaluable. Communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem solving – these things are used in the workplace and in life every single day! My study abroad trips had an exceptionally large impact on my soft skills and who I am today, too.
Throughout college you meet so many people in classes, organizations and conferences. This is the basis for your network. All of my involvement created a large network of peers and mentors all around the country. I think that has had the largest impact on my life post-college. No matter where I am, I always know someone. But networking doesn’t stop after college – we have to be intentional about expanding our networks and staying in touch with people we’ve met.
On the flip side, what are the biggest challenges or differences you’ve experienced post grad that you didn’t expect or didn’t feel prepared for?
Moving out of state to a new city where I knew no one. This was one of the best but most difficult decisions I’ve ever made; it was so much harder than I imagined. I thought that after interning in Kansas City for a summer and having a blast, moving to Columbia and making friends would be a breeze. I was wrong. It was difficult, but SO worth it. I have grown so much as a person since my move. I learned a lot about myself and was put way outside my comfort zone to get out and try new things and meet new people. I joined a kickball league (my team won the league), discovered I actually like to run (three 5k’s in 2015) and I’ve expanded my taste for seafood!
Feeling lost. I think Kayla talked about this in her post. When you graduate college and land a job, you expect everything to be awesome. You graduated college – what could be harder than that? Life, y’all. For me, working world is basically a 180 from college world. But the encouraging thing is we all face many of the same challenges. I get in my own world and think no one else understands what I’m going through, but when I actually talk to my friends about it, they’re all experiencing similar ups and downs with their jobs. Don’t get discouraged!
Lessons learned: budgeting is scary, home improvement is hard, termites are evil, a good glass of wine can cure just about anything.
At this stage, what are a few of your strengths and weaknesses?
I am a strong writer, a problem-solver and an excellent listener. I also have a huge imagination which leads me to be curious and adventurous in just about every aspect of my life. I love to try new things. My weaknesses include long-term planning, focusing on tasks, dark chocolate and wine (hehe). If you really want to know my personality type, I’m an ISFP to the core!! (http://www.16personalities.com/isfp-personality)
And apparently I’m a perfectionist (it took me three days and about a hundred drafts to craft my perfect answers for this questionnaire).
How do you stay motivated when work gets really busy or difficult?
My faith, family and friends keep me motivated and on track every day. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by amazing peers, friends and family who inspire me to be my best. When I’m feeling unmotivated or too far from home, it’s the long phone conversations with my parents or close friends that encourage me to keep moving forward.
Work-life balance? How do you stay afloat and refreshed?
I had the option of getting rid of my personal phone and switching over to my work phone when I was hired. I didn’t do that. Initially because I didn’t want to sell my soul to Farm Bureau, but it has actually worked out great for many reasons. When I leave the office I don’t have to be constantly seeing my work emails pop up. I can periodically check my work phone to make sure nothing urgent has come up, but otherwise work is ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Be intentional about keeping personal life and work life separate. I try not to take my work home with me or let my personal life influence my work.
What in your #PostGradLife are you most proud of so far?
I planned a U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance Food Dialogue this past November. Initially, the project was not fully mine, but because of happenings around the office, I had to take over planning. It was my first solo project. To plan out every little detail, pray people show up, and then see the event succeed was enormously rewarding.
What does life look like right now? Hobbies and interests? What outside of work are you passionate about?
My free-time is spent traveling, hiking, running, playing kickball, exploring Columbia, and staying involved at church.
My relationship with God has grown a lot since moving to Columbia. I found a church I love, was baptized and have recently started a bible study group for young professional women in the area.
My love of hiking has also grown. South Carolinians are big on the outdoors. I’ve always loved hiking, but thanks to South Carolina’s basically year-round beautiful weather and close proximity to tons of parks and trails, I hike a lot more than I ever have. It’s awesome because I’m spending time doing something I love and I’m getting a good workout at the same time!
Just for Fun
What is essential to your morning routine to start the day off right?
I always check the weather before leaving the house – wouldn’t want to get caught in the rain without an umbrella. And I love to listen to K-Love on my drive to work – it starts my day off on the right foot.
Do you have a must-have vice like caffeine or item you can’t live without in your workspace?
Green tea! It has the perfect amount of caffeine to wake me up but keep me focused. And music. I’m addicted to Spotify.
If you were to have another career, all limitations aside, what would it be?
Something that would allow me to travel a lot. Travel blogger/writer, or if I work on my photography skills, a travel photographer.
Moment of truth, what do you really miss about college?
My friends! A lot of us who graduated together have moved out of state. I miss being a short walk from all of my friends.
The beauty of campus. There’s nothing better than the start of a new season on The Oval – the first snowfall, all the flowers blooming in the spring and the leaves changing in the fall. South Carolina hardly has seasons.
And football, of course. Oh how I miss being surrounded by thousands of Ohio State fans every Saturday during the fall. Living in SEC country is rough, y’all.
Lauren, thank you so much for participating and being so genuine in sharing your story. I enjoyed getting to know you a bit better and am even more thankful now that our paths have crossed again!